Technology Think Tank: Apps and Other Tech Tools for the High School Classroom

Think Tank Poster copy

Let’s face it! Technology can be overwhelming. BUT, it’s here to stay, AND it’s useful in the classroom.

I’ve been on the technology team for my school since it’s inception (for about six years, now); we’ve actually just scaled back the frequency of our meetings because we feel our school has finally caught up to 21st century standards regarding the infusion of technology in the classroom.

I don’t know all there is to know about the infinite implementations of technology (apps, websites, devices, etc.), but I do know a great deal. I’ve tried many of them. I’ve quit several others. I’ve become frustrated with the organizational piece and have ironed a technology management protocol that seems to work for me and my students.

Over the next few months, I plan on featuring one technology tool in a series called Technology Think Tank by offering suggestions for implementation, reflecting on my experiences, providing advice, and, finally, by eliciting feedback, suggestions, as well as additional uses from my readers.

I’m all about teacher collaboration because collective knowledge, experience and ideas are empowering tools to propel education forward. And, if we don’t keep up, we’re sure to get lost in the technology time warp.

The following are Apps and/or sites I use on a fairly regular basis, if not daily. You can look forward to learning more about the management of them, in addition to how and for what purposes I use them to not only make my teaching easier but to enrich the learning of my students by engaging them in a variety of ways.

Here’s what’s coming:




While at times I am overwhelmed by technology, I also embrace the possibilities it opens up to students and me. I decided to become i-connected when the iPad 2 was released (I was already using my iPod and iPhone). I set my alarm to the wee hours of the morning to be among the first to place my order, and good thing I did, too, because, while it only took me 10 days to receive my package, others waited for weeks longer.
Three of us, at work, ordered in the wee hours of the morning and received our iPads on the very same day! Eagerly, we arrived at work & compared notes. Exchanging procedures and capabilities, not to mention the APPS (all the APPS; it was like Christmas each time I visited the iTunes store) had become a daily routine. We were each others’ support and pioneers at our school.
So, I thought, why not open up my finds to a greater audience, and all I ask in return is that you make some suggestions of your finds to me, too! I’ve listed all of the TEACHER-friendly APPS I use at and for school, some on a daily basis. Keep in mind that I teach high school English, so my APP Table of Contents may vary from yours if you are teaching a different grade level or discipline.
I’d be happy to answer any questions that you have about any of the APPS I have listed below.

    Just a few of my faves:
Among my favorites, by far, is the Planbook APP by Hellmansoft. It has afforded me to have a paperless planbook that I no longer need to erase when I haven’t accomplished all I’ve wanted to or when we have a snow day and I have to push everything I’ve written in pencil forward. Paper-thin paper, be gone! Not to mention the developer is extremely supportive and takes suggestions for future updates.
In addition to the Planbook, Essay Grader is also a very useful APP where you could customize your comments to avoid having to write the same things over and over again, and then you email the comments to the students; you can even upload your student lists and save them.
ibook Writer is something I’ve explored a bit with but not fully. It’s an app where basically you can write a book for each unit and ultimately a course, importing documents, pictures and media. It reminds me of Wikis.
Dropbox is similar to the iCloud, in that you can upload documents from your iPad to your desktop or laptop and vice versa. It makes moving documents a dream.
For research and establishing connections between topics, Wikinodes is fantastic. It’s kind of like six degrees of separation. I use it at the beginning of a unit to establish some background information of the time period and author we are studying. The way one subject connects to another is particularly effective for visual learners. A scavenger hunt assignment is fun to create with this APP.
For the British literature passion I get to indulge while teaching a course of the same name, Shakespeare is an essential APP, providing biographical info, full texts of his plays, his sonnets, instruction on iambic pentameter and links to performances and Shakespeare resources.
London is an APP that provides the evolution of the city including maps over various time period, events, people, etc. that shaped London. It even has some media clips of short documentaries and interviews.
Both British Library apps are also helpful when wanting to demonstrate primary source material from various time periods. They have such materials as the original texts of Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales which are housed at the British Library.
For film buffs, the IMDB APP is essential. It includes everything you’ve ever wanted to know about films, directors, actors/actresses, genres and film history. It’s a must have APP not only for film teachers, like myself, but also for film buffs.
Paramount 100 is effective when presenting the history of film or to acquaint students with the makings of a production studio.
Editions is also one of my visit-everyday APPS. It allows you to select topics of interest and pulls articles based on such topic from daily sources to create a magazine. I highly recommend this one to get all of your info from one source!
For short presentations on a variety of topics, TED talks are both interesting and thought provoking.
iTunes U hosts a vast array of collegiate sources (both text and audio) that I’ve found useful for my literature classes.

Utility APPS:
Adobe Reader
Essay Grader

Reference APPS:
Discovery Edu
POADAT: Oxford Dictionary & Thesaurus
Lit analysis

British Literature APPS:
Treasure: British Library
British Library
London: City Walks

Film APPS:
Movies 2
Paramount 100

News APPS:
The Chronicle

Media APPS:

Literary APPS:
iTunes U

Travel APPS:
EF Tours

I plan on updating this list and reblogging as I find more useful APPS. I’m looking forward to seeing your suggestions. hAPPy APPing!!

Technology Overload

When is technology too much??

Technology is empowering and restrictive at the same time. I’ve always been a proponent of advancing technology in the classroom because I believe teachers should be always, at the very least, one step ahead of the students.

I have always been the pilotER of new technology at my school, being one of the very first develop a website for my classes, using databases such as Turn- It- In and providing professional development on the uses of it, applying to have a Smart Board in my classroom and integrating it into my teaching…. the list goes on. Eventually, a technology team was put in place comprising of a teacher from each discipline; I represented my department.

Technology has a way of making collaboration an easier task. A colleague and I decided to pilot a collaboratively taught course with his AP Euro class and my British literature class– using technology as the primary tool of communication between our students. Google Docs was adopted school-wide, and we were among the first users paving the way for our students to use G Docs as the platform for their work.

Students set about designing websites depicting different eras of British history from a variety of approaches (including literary, history, psychology, autobiography/biography and language). It became a model for technology that was showcased later in the year before the Board of Education as an exemplar of technology use in the classroom.

When the IPad II became available, I jumped on board, with the hopes of creating a completely paperless classroom, discarding of my bound paper planner and gradebook. The IPad is an easy portable way to organize my information in one place.

I thought!

In ONE PLACE being the operative phrase.

With the rapid advancement of technology, I’m learning it’s difficult to keep up. Every time I turn around, there’s a new APP or a better APP. There are so many things I want to do, but OH SO MANY limitations.

First, my students don’t all own the same Smart Devices, and my school can’t afford to make sets of any one device available to teachers. SO, I have a mish mosh of students– who has an IPhone? who has a Droid? who has a tablet? who has a laptop? and what kind of laptop do you have? Are these questions important? Yes, they most certainly are!

The smaller devices are ideal for looking up information, but no so much for creating word documents. Throw in the fact that the school’s web is Web sensed… that throws another barrier in the mix, altogether.

While Google Docs is an excellent platform for sharing and collaborating for the students, it doesn’t have all the ability to gauge the authenticity of student work the way Turn-It-In does, which is absolutely necessary in this world of common this and common that. Kids are kids; they take the easy way out sometimes, and it’s my job to make sure I’m grading their own work. So, do I ask them to create their docs on Google Docs, then upload to Turn-It-In? It seems tedious, but necessary.

While my website has always been my HUB for all of my students, it’s quickly becoming a mish mosh of links, which, admittedly looks confusing to them. I provide a scavenger hunt at the beginning of the school year to ensure they can access all I need them to in order to continue moving down this paperless path. But I end up with students who forgot their passwords from last year, so I ask for them to be reset, but the students still have difficulty accessing what I need them to. I offer tutorials after school; I have even offered them in class. Sometimes I feel more like a technology teacher than an English teacher.

Trying to keep my APPS and links straight is becoming an organizational debacle that I’m not sure how to straighten out. It’s really giving me a headache!

How much is too much? I’m trying to find the line. Any suggestions are welcome!